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Private Practice

An Hour of Your Life Wasted
Boredom can drive us to many things, and one of them is watching Private Practice. A so-called medical show, this is an hour with some very unpleasant, unlikable, annoying rich people who sleep with each other because no one else could tolerate them. So badly written, this show could fall into the comedy category for the Emmy's though one suspects the writers take themselves very seriously. Very seriously. Every week, this medical facility is faced with moral challenges that bring out the worst in one another, beginning with the truly absurd Dr. Naomi Bennett. Completely without a hint of charm or likability, this actors job is is to perpetually snarl at the daughter and the ex-husband, and now, the best friend. Second in line is Dr. Charlotte King, a character born out of the imagination of a sober Tennesee Williams. When she isn't spraying her female musk, she is chopping balls off her new husband, the docile Dr. Freedman. Even Taye Diggs character has recently entered into annoying territory as he ponders ethical and moral questions, usually shirtless. The real issue with this show is how bad the characters are and how as an audience, we could care less. At night, these horrible people retire to their beach-front Malibu properties to drink Chardonnay and engage in a game of sexual tick-tack-toe, only to wake each day and pretend they are doing something useful. If this were the show, at this point, the poignant sad folk-like song would be underscoring the deeply felt, overly dramatic moment that will happily lead to a commercial break.

The Expendables

A Botox of a Movie
Some men buy hot cars when having their mid life crisis, some men make movies. In this horrific homage to the brutal close-up and an America that doesn't exist, Stallone has fashioned a movie that is so thin on substance and excessive on violence, it is at best a fairy tale. This movie could have been titled, Cliché, because that is what it is at every corner. Stallone must have seen the movie, 300 and liked the graphic splattering of blood, because you see it so often in this film you wonder if he's not being slightly ironic. And why he decided close-ups of every aging hero was interesting is nothing less than bewilderment. Yes, Mickey Rourke gives a three minute speech with a close up of nothing but his lips, but the speech is flat, detached, despite the close up (what else?) of tears on Sly's famously botoxed cheek. This is one of those movies we Americans like: we always win, we never get shot and we ALWAYS teach our enemies a lesson. Somewhere in the back of one's mind, we're thinking, they can't even find bin Laden and yet this little group infiltrates and basically destroys a government...if only. But it is really the excessive, meaningless violence that is most troubling. There is no regard for human life in the slightest here. Men are killed on the average of three per second. It's not interesting violence. Its not martial art eloquence, or supported by any kind of romance of violence, its dirty, bogus, badly photographed violence that leaves one running for silence later.

Do Começo ao Fim

Love Thy Brother
Directed by Aluízio Abranches, "From Beginning to End" revolves around the relationship between two young half brothers whose intense childhood bond eventually leads to a sexual relationship. Told as a fairy tale romance, FBTE skirts the issue of incest by simply showing parents with concerned frowns and while an overwrought musical score plays not so much in the background.

While the topic of incest is complicated, this film is not. The director has chosen to tell the story from an unrealistic point of view that denies reality: first from parents who express little concern, to an insulated world that apparently has no schools or friends. The boys who are quite innocent express their bond in an endless display of affection and mutual protection. Their journey into adulthood is oddly told by a series of deaths in the family culminating in an erotic undressing after they are finally alone together to consume their longing. Tensions arise when the younger brother is invited to train for the Olympics in Russia for three years. The last part of the film deals with their separation (for the first time) and how each deals with the absence. In this fairy tale world, there is always a happy ending.

The adult brothers (played by athletic and model-beautiful Joao Gabriel Vasconcello and Rafael Cardoso are so ridiculously attractive that it is easy to dismiss or even remember that they are related. Director Abranches never detours from his fairy tale, letting the easy sexiness and apparent attraction of the characters make it all seem downright reasonable. This is a world where not an eyebrow is raised, as the two, seemingly oblivious to any concern for the outside world, are always physical. In only one scene, they ask a swimming trainer if their constant petting bothers him— the answer is of course not. The mother, beautifully played by Júlia Lemmertz, is aware that the affections the boy have for one another seem to be suspicious but in the fairy tale world of brotherly love, mothers and fathers never comment. In, fact the mother makes a ghostly return to join the boys for a swim of the coast of Rio.

Watching FBTE, the idea of incest was almost put on the back burner because of the lack of tension and the nearly soft porn charisma of the leads. That this film is about two half brothers that are in love gets lost in the foggy haze of steamy sex and presumption on the part of the director that we can be pulled in by attractive men and a loud musical score. It could be the story of two boys growing up together, but in this instance, they are related. It is of note that on the same evening, on the Sundance channel, a film called Savage Grace, a 2007 film by Swoon director Tom Kalin, would be aired. On the completely other end of the moral spectrum, Savage Grace is difficult, painful and almost nauseating as mother and young son have intercourse. But the two films are reminders of just how complicated the subject of incest is…they are not all alike. FBTE doesn't judge the subject so much as punctuate it with beautiful examples, making it a fairy tale, a poem, a love story, easy to watch, frankly erotic, but empty. The ultimate question to be asked is, it it a good film? Does it entertain, inform and enlighten? Yes, if only because we are in new territory and the characters are so free from a any burden, living in a world that can only be dreamed of.

Sex and the City 2

An Embarrassment of B*tches
There is point in the history of a franchise when it is best to hang it up and sadly, that point may have come with this latest outing by the girls of Sex in the City. Naturally, they have all aged. Samantha Jones, now of a grandmotherly age, is like a gay man fighting ruthlessly to hang on to any semblance of sexual attraction, which on screen, is just embarrassing. Carrie Bradshaw, always an acquired taste, has become even more equine looking. Miranda look s like Miranda only slightly feeble and Charlotte York has managed to remain quite the boring character. It is the dialogue though that makes one cringe. Beginning with every gay cliché known to gay man, including a visitation from Liza Minnelli, you would swear this was written from a straight man's version of what gay life must be like. Not worry, it gets deeply, deeply heterosexual as move into the Middle East, where Samantha, who is revealed as a sex addict, gets into trouble because, she is in Muslim country. The fact that these American women seem to be dressing for Anna Wintour not tourism in a country where they could actually get hurt seems besides the point. There are a lot of sub-layers to this film: women's rights, motherhood, relationships, even a passing glance at the difference in cultures throughout the world, but like everything Sex in the City its light, light, light. And sometimes, it's hard to discern light from stupid and so much of this film felt stupid.

The September Issue

It's a Mystery Story, Really
It is best to remember that this film is pre-economic breakdown and surely many of the perks are gone. That said, the September issue is really an unfolding mystery story about a woman with little talent who manages to become the editor of the most popular fashion magazine in the world. The documentary is also a war story between two minds, Wintour and Coddington's. Wintour is the general, so she gets to decide and in general, no pun intended, she makes bad decisions. It is impressive that the documentary got made and that Wintour, who must have seen it was OK with the image its portrays of her because, the source of her power, her editorship are nowhere to be found. Wintour behaves like a celebrity because when the veil is drawn, there is not much there. Her visual sense is tired and the manner in which she makes her decisions, with wimp art director Charlie Churchward, is appalling. It is one of those ongoing ironies that editors get to claim the honors for their magazines, when the real visual artists, in this case, Grace Coddington, have to play second fiddle to people so clearly less talented. The only one to escape this fate was Fabion Barone, who having worked for Harper's Bizaar, actually is seen as the force behind the success of the magazine. The other elephant in the room about this documentary is that no one seems very happy. Anna clearly is depressed about being seen as a lightweight in her family (i.e.,fashion), even her own daughter, while clearly enjoying the riches of her mothers fame, doesn't "get it." Grace and her weathered face tell it all: it is torture to work with his talentless woman called the editor and all the minions run around in fear—of what exactly is the real question...which reveals Anna's only real talent and power she has: the ability to fire people.


Mountains out of anthills
It's hysterical to see people try to make something out of nothing. Tokyo was a bore. Period. If you have fast forward you will be using it because the first two segments are really boring and the last, which is beautifully photographed and acted, is also in its own way, a bore. Film makers who have nothing to say often to resort to obscure messages, oblique camera angles or surreal images. The first segment, in which the film makers takes on Hal David's notion that a "chair is just a chair" is ultimately just silly. From silly we move on to ridiculous with Merde, a forty minute waste of time about a man who lives in the sewers of Tokyo, is mentally challenged and upon finding some grenades, which he promptly and gleefully explodes in the streets, is arrested and eventually hanged. Attach to this thin premise some funny vocal musings and a "mysterious" ending and you a suddenly deep film about culture. Nonsense. If you believe this, I have piece of a toast with Christ's face in it which i would like to sell. The final film, "Shaking Tokyo" is beautifully photographed and acted, but it too is in the final revelation, not about much. This segment is forgiven because it is so tastefully acted by Teruyuki Kagawa, and how in the world the director got the streets of Tokyo without people is worth watching. Try as you may, these are seaweed thin morsels of film making, and attempting to attach meaning where there is none is what it is....fun.


Undoubtedly Good
It's 1963, ten years away from the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus negating its previous definition of homosexuality as a clinical mental disorder. What's important to remember is that this film is not about acts of sexuality, but about insinuations and the harm they can do. In 1963, people were blackmailed for their sexuality, and that is really what this is about. Was the priest gay? Undoubtedly. Did he have inappropriate sex with the boy? No. But it was enough, based on a cruel intuition of a very controlling person, who essentially guessed correctly. Sister Aloysius is extremely unlikable and then there are flashes of charm and warmth—we are asked to take sides. The fact is, in this situation Father Flynn is an extremely good priest. His empathy with the Miller boy is appreciated and in what has to be one of the great speeches about brotherhood, the mother understands, which is truly, truly unique. This film is directed like a poem: no line of dialogue, no gesture, no nuance is meaningless. And in the scene where the nun brings in the dead mouse, it is the metaphor for the movie-a cat and mouse chase. She has suspicions and a deep sense of injustice that priest have so much authority. She doesn't like Flynn as they are by nature, opposites. Father Flynn and Sister James are life-affirming, progressive people in an environment that has animus towards change. Father Flynn has a speech about how we are all guilty of something, and in in the shooting gallery of sins, Sister Aloysius picks homosexuality. Is he guilty? In theory, no. The church says it is OK to be homosexual, but not physical acts of homosexuality. Father Flynn is guilty of something although we are not exactly aware of what it is, but it is enough to make him leave. The end, the doubts that Sister Aloysius confesses seem to more about the nature of the church and her own faith, then that she forced a good priest to leave. She is demoted by her action, thus, confirming her own distrust of the institution. This may be a film about good versus evil, kindness over control, faith versus trust. It is also about the church itself, which does in fact, reward priests who have moved on from empathy to sexuality. The truth is always seen at an angle, and it depends on where you're standing. The fact that the truth is usually so complex, so multi-layered is the essence of this film.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Redelonce Bordering on the Ridiculous
It was curious to see only two stars on Netflix. This is not a movie made for American audiences. But it must be appreciated for its originality. In a time when it seems that all the original story ideas are exhausted, this curious tale is an unexpected, twisted story of a man possessed by odor. It could have gone many different ways, but it is in the end, a love story, albeit, a frightening one. Who hasn't in the neurotic throes of love wanted to possess something of the love object. One of the true verifications of love is smell. Thus, our main character, from an early age finds smell is his passion, his obsession, his fetish. As a man without odor himself, he is also without sexuality, which is the true nature of any fetish. Ben Whishaw is a strange looking man. A long neck, a face that seems swollen from sleepless nights, his eyes are strangely like King Kong's: They tell us everything. What they don't tell us is if he is a saint or a sinner. For this movie takes a curious turn and becomes a quasi religious film with a completely gratuitous orgy scene, including the perfunctory church deacon engaged in physical pleasure, (though the noted sadly lacking display of any homosexual affection; it hadn't been invented yet?) the plot falls into that surrealistic harbor of the simply unbelievable. And it ends on a note Tennessee Williams would have have loved. We now know that Sebastian Venerable was wearing perfume. Despite the flaws of the plot, the movie is seriously engaging, beautiful and wonderfully NOT Hollywood. For in that version, a bullet or a sword, or a dagger would have ended this movie about fifteen minutes earlier.

The Pursuit of Happyness

I don't quite get this film.....
I loved the performances, of course. But I didn't quite understand the point…work hard, suffer and it all will change? About as depressing as a Leonard Cohen song, there really is no epiphany. It could be God, it could be the Devil, but something usually shifts. At one point, it might be God as the Gospel choir reaches into the heavens with the crescendo of human voice, but that ain't it. You know the guy is a kind of genius and it only will take time for someone to recognize it, but then, that is not quite fair---not everyone has a gift or genius for something. And it seemed he made bad choices. Why work for as a paidless intern when your family is starving? Had he never heard of a job? Seems with this apparent talent, he would have been employed readily. I am all in favor of willing suspension of disbelief, but this movie maybe crossed that line. It simply didn't make sense. At some point, with this litany of bad luck, you have to ask yourself, why? And maybe that's what's lacking, a spiritual angle to this, something other than pining for the American Dream and as in all American movies, getting it.

The Break-Up

An Unexpected Pleasure
I sighed when my partner brought this DVD home. Not another Jenny Aniston comedy...And look at the cast...must be funny. It begins funny. It only takes a moment in a relationship to suddenly find yourself asking, "what am I here for?" and the sad truth is, while pride and emotional distance is often the reason that people don't communicate, sometimes, as in this movie, they are simply not meant to be. Halfway through the film I said, "they simply cannot get back together, they really don't like each other." But I was suspecting a Hollywood ending, which happily, and sadly never happened. A movie in three movements, its a slow dirge revealing slowly the unhappy moments. Initially all their friends offer selfish, absurd advice, which gets taken for lack of any other navigation through the muddy emotional waters of any break-up. The epiphany comes in the form of a turnabout from one of the friends who reveals (a little conveniently) a truth about the main character. The tension arrives as it unclear whether they will get back together. It would be foolish to wish this, because they are clearly not meant for one another, and their characters need to, literally, grow up. And this is what is so rare. Most films of this genre would gladly turn their back on the the truth and find some minor chord moment where they kiss and make up. And this doesn't happen, which is rare, unexpected and totally adult. I appreciated Jennifer Aniston's depth of character. It was subtle, evolving and perhaps drawn from her own experiences with a certain relationship. It should be noted that Judy Davis almost steals the movie in her turn as a Devil Loves Prada modern art dealer. The sudden turns of advice from friends is my only fault to find in this film. If only life were that easy. But films are compact glimpses into larger situations and in this sad but true insight into the nature of a relationship, it has to be .

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

An instant classic?
Apparently so. From the first kinetic moments, Studio 60 blazes through an hour of swift dialog, brilliant speeches, and a storyline that can go any which way. The camaraderie of Perry and Whitford feels genuine. Whitfords bottled nervous energy which could often become annoying on TWW is perfectly contained if not explained by a history of drug use. And the concept of the show seems remarkable fresh. Who knew? One must love Sorkin for his loyalty (the Albie/Tripp relationship must be Sorkin/ Schlamme) with West Wing regulars showing up. One can only hope Allison Janney gets a regular spot. Some have suggested the show is quite unlike The West Wing, which I disagree with...its the same cinematographer, the same lighting, the same run over dialog Sorkin is famous for...and who cares? It works, and you know it works when you feel exhilarated watching a show, and yearning for the week to pass quickly to see what happens next, and that is exactly what happened. Loved it.

Gay Sex in the 70s

Apparently, gay sex only occurred in New York City and while this erstwhile look at a particular era may inflame the testosterone of those born after 1980, it seems to do so at a cost. It makes clear, both visually and narratively that sex was ubiquitous, unfettered and rampant, it scarcely makes the point that there was a cost, a huge human cost. In one brief scene there is a man with AIDS, who resembles the Elephant Man, and it is the only moment of contrast to the lean, athletic and handsome good looks of the gay men in the 70s. Otherwise, with a not particularly emotional scene where a man accounts for the tragic vast loss of most of his friends, the emphasis seems to be, gee, it was such a great time. And that is troubling. This seems a nostalgic and waxing look at an era with little remorse, and more dangerously, it seems to barely speak to the lessons of that era. In fact, one individual predicts that within twenty years, everything should be back to so-called normal and we can indulge our every whim and pleasure. Many, many young people have aired the opinion that this era seemed like so much fun, a celebration of the sexual and with some envy are sorry they missed it. In all likelihood if you did, you would be writing from the grave. Documentaries are by nature personal. They cannot help but suggest an opinion about the subject. Nostalgia rather than fact can be a great artistic license, but it shields the truth,and when it seems to glorify that era, much like Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of Will, it borders on irresponsible.

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